Federal Government condones religious discrimination

The Australian Federal Government has recently committed $90 million to fund chaplains in public and private schools. This overt act of religious discrimination is absolutely astonishing. Whatever happened to seperation of church and state?

Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews said:

I think there is a broad concern in the community, amongst parents and indeed amongst a lot of young people, that having someone like a counsellor – like a chaplain – that they can go to and talk to is very important

Even if you concede that a counsellor could be “like a chaplain”, why not support and fund counsellors rather than chaplains? Why must the candidate have a religious affiliation? Isn’t it more important for them to have professional training?

The government hit back against claims of religious discrimination by noting that the program is voluntary and not limited to any particular religion. Prime Minister, John Howard asserted:

The great majority of people will support this as a very sensible initiative, and I’m quite sure that Islamic schools and Jewish schools will be as enthusiastic about this as Catholic and Protestant schools, and so they should be.

Since when are public schools Christian, Islamic, or Jewish? All goverment schools should be have no religious directives. This funding is weighted heavily towards private schools (which are predominantly religious),

John Howard continued to say:

We’re not going to discriminate, but clearly we reserve the right to say ‘no’ to somebody who’s plainly unacceptable, whatever that person’s background may be.

They are clearly discriminating based on whether the person has a religious affiliation, and the sponsoring religious organisation will be discriminating on whether the person is of the appropriate faith. This discrimination is both outlandish and overt.

Also from John Howard:

Chaplain has a particular connotation, people understand it, they know exactly what I’m talking about.

That particular connotation is that a chaplain is a Christian guidance consellor. It is blantantly ridiculous that a professional youth counsellor, who is not a member of a major religious organisation, would be inedligible for funding under this scheme. It is similarly ridiculous that an untrained, religious person would be eligible and hired in preference.

This motion communicates that the government believes that faith plays a bigger role in ethics and proficiency than any other factor. This is not only misguided, but also grossly offensive to secular people and mental health educators because it indicates that the government completely disregards years of training in preference for religious affiliation.

Update: I encourage everyone to write to John Howard and Kevin Andrews regarding this issue. I also encourage complaints to the Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission which deals with “breaches of human rights by or on behalf of the Commonwealth” and in particular “the impairment of equal opportunity in employment on particular grounds including: religion…”.

Update: I added my letter to John Howard to the comments section of this post.

Update: The ABC website is reporting that the Greens and the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations are opposed to this plan.

10 thoughts on “Federal Government condones religious discrimination”

  1. I sent this letter to John Howard via his website. I might print it out and post it as well. I have the feeling that they don’t attribute as much credibility to email as to traditional mail.

    Dear Mr Howard,

    I am deeply distressed by your plan to contribute $90 million to place chaplains in our schools. I feel that this marks an overt case of religious discrimination against non-secular mental health professionals and counsellors. It communicates that you consider faith a better judge of character and suitability for employment than any other personal or professional attributes.

    I also feel that your plan is unfairly biased towards private education, which is predominantly religious compared to government schools which should have no religious directives. I sincerely hope that you reconsider your position on this issue and make these funds available to support professional counsellors hired on the basis of their suitability alone (not also due to their religion).

    I am very disturbed by the fact that I have to write this letter. I have always felt that “Australian values” involve giving all Australians “a fair go”; not only those that are Christian, Jewish, or Islamic.

    Sincerely yours,

    Nick Lowe

  2. Yeah, I went ballistic when I saw this yesterday. Writing is definitely required her, but a couple of notes:

    * You don’t need to limit writing to those listed above (good first-choices though they are). In particular your federal representative should get a copy, and chuck in state rep too.
    * “Non-secular” == “Religious”. I think you mean “secular”.
    * Unfortunately we don’t have anything resembling the US Establishment Clause, so there is no formal separation of the Church and State in Australia. Fortunately it hasn’t been too much of a problem so far, but it’s one to keep an eye on; the likes of Hillsong have an agenda and a *lot* of money.

    Cheers,
    Steve

  3. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who was so strongly offended.

    Eek! I can’t believe I wrote “non-secular”; I was clearly fairly irate when I wrote this… sigh, I’ve corrected this mistake. Unfortunately it’s in the mail submitted to John Howard online.

    I’m making the above into a “formal letter” and sending it via snail mail to John Howard and CC’d to the various people (including my state and federal members – thanks for the advice).

  4. Actually, I’ve just realised that I may be wrong about the church-and-state thing. This is from the Constitution:

    “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

    Does this make the fund unconstitutional? In particular, if a non-religious person applies for a “Counselor” position should they be considered equally under the “public trust” provision?

  5. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll have to find an easily searchable version of the constitution. (Anyone have a link?)

    They might try to get around this clause in the constitution in two ways. Firstly, are they necessarily creating a law? Or are they are just managing public funding? (I’m not sure how arranging for these programs works.) Secondly, they could assert that these positions are not a government positions. (They are just co-funded by the government.) Personally, I think that these excuses are fairly flimsy and shouldn’t hold up.

    I also think that this program contradicts a fair amount of clauses in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission Act:

    http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/hraeoca1986512/

    (Which I couldn’t find on the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission homepage…) I haven’t had time to really consider all relevant clauses in the act yet, but I’m making a few notes as I go.

  6. I’ve never done this blog thing before but here goes . . . I completely agree with what you have written. I am a Social Worker and have completed a masters paper in spirituality in state schools. I have worked as a school counsellor for more than five years, yet under John Howard’s scheme I am ineligible to apply for the recently announced positions of chaplain as I do not have a Christian affiliation which is deemed suitable by Scripture Union (the employing body). If this is not discrimination I don’t know what is!!!!!

  7. Hi Tarnya,

    I’m glad that you posted a comment; I sincerely appreciate it.

    For me, this issue has been a question of what *could* happen rather than what *will* happen. I generally accept that in the vast majority of cases, applicants will be religious. However, I assert that there could be cases where applicants are not religious and there *is no reason* to proclude these people from employment.

    Your situtation has really hammered home that these cases may not actually be so rare. Do you mind my asking if you are a) atheist or b) religious but not part of a group recognised by Scripture Union?

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